Chaney High School Class of 2019 commencement

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After high school, the paths, priorities and principles Gabriel Franklin, Maria Flanagan and Nyrah L. Simmons choose to adopt and follow inevitably will change, but one thing binding them together is a desire to enter fields that will allow them to help others.

“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since second grade. My great-grandmother was a nurse at Akron Children’s Hospital,” said Franklin, who moved one big step closer to attaining his goal by being among the 147 graduates who earned diplomas during Chaney High School’s Class of 2019 commencement Thursday morning at Stambaugh Auditorium.

Franklin, who recently was hired at VXI Global Solutions in Youngstown and is training to be a manager at a local Burger King restaurant, said his next major step is to enroll in the University of Akron’s nursing program. His desire is to be a registered nurse.

A similar long-term goal is in the cards for Simmons, who plans to attend Bethany College, a private liberal-arts school in Bethany, W.Va., to become a traveling phlebotomist. Such a career would allow her to draw blood from patients in a variety of settings such as blood drives and in nursing homes, then have it used for blood transfusions to assist those who are seriously ill.

Serving as an inspirational backdrop for her decision was having taken nursing classes at Choffin Career & Technical Center, said the straight-A student, who also hopes to spend part of this summer working for the Red Cross.

“I had a lot of people help me during my senior year. If not for that kind of help, I wouldn’t be standing here today,” said Flanagan, who intends to major in psychology at Cleveland State University to become a social worker.

For Flanagan, much of the preliminary groundwork has already been laid, because she’s on the verge of moving into an apartment in Cleveland. She also has gotten a job and set up a bank account, Flanagan added.

The keynote speaker was Wilson K. Okello, a 2005 Chaney grad who earned a bachelor’s of science degree in education from Youngstown State University and a doctorate degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Using language that sounded self-reflective and philosophical at times and like a sermon at others, Okello, of Cincinnati, delved into the ancient Greek history of the 26.2-mile marathon and what compels people to undertake such a challenge, despite facing insurmountable odds. He also used it as a means to challenge the grads to realize they have the power and endurance to overcome obstacles they will face.

Okello, a professor in Miami University’s Global and Intercultural Studies Department, also founded the Truth to Power Project, a teaching approach that believes everyone has something significant, worthy and powerful to offer. His presentation to the graduates centered on that idea, as he advised them to speak encouraging words to themselves, resist the temptation to blindly follow others’ strides and to keep moving forward.

“You have a responsibility to pay it forward,” Okello continued. “Be good stewards. Keep on pushing.”

Okello did his part to pay it forward by awarding $1,000 scholarships to Simmons as well as Jamelin Love, who plans to attend Hocking College in Nelsonville, Ohio.

“I went through a lot, but every time I went through something, it made me work harder,” Valar Blair Jr., valedictorian, said in his remarks, adding that he suffered the loss of several family members.

The standing-room-only crowd applauded when Blair mentioned plans to attend Youngstown State University to be an engineer.

Salutatorian Cameron Dawson praised his fellow grads, some of whom also worked two jobs and faced other challenges, for their accomplishment, saying they share “a collective ambition to be successful.”

Incoming CEO Justin Jennings surprised graduates, their families and school personnel when he announced that he would award two $500 scholarships to Chaney High School graduates this year and every year thereafter. Chaney Principal Rob Kearns said the plan is to give the scholarships from CEO Jennings to Dawson, and Adrienna Brooks.


Class of 2019

Number of graduates: 147

Class colors: Red and gray

Class song: “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King

Valedictorian: Valar Blair Jr.

Salutatorian: Cameron Dawson

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